I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Business Insider will probably add an inflammatory headline about Joel Spolsky or Jason Calacanis here

In a recent Stack Overflow podcast episode, Joel Spolsky mentioned that he’s probably going to formally end his popular Joel on Software blog next month.

He has been talking to someone named Jason who’s doing a pretty good job convincing him to “blog” privately instead, via email, only to a mailing list of friends, superfans, and influential people. This solves a number of problems, although it creates some as well, and I don’t buy the argument that it helps reach more influential, high-up people who are “too busy to read blogs”. (If that’s the real reason, publish to a blog and send email.)

This saddens me because it’s a loss to programmers and tech writing. Joel’s book based on his blog is one of the most concise, accessible, and sensible collections of wisdom1 in our industry. Nearly every programmer or manager of programmers I’ve ever worked with has read it and loved it.

I don’t know his exact reasons for shutting down. He said he’s running out of things to say. But I suspect it’s partly our fault, as the audience, for the way we treat our writers.

Even if his reasons don’t include this, it’s a great excuse to talk about it.

Programmers are the worst audience

Joel writes to programmers, and is extremely popular among them. Nearly everything he posts gets front-page-linked by whatever social-news aggregators are popular at the time. (He has outlasted the relevance of all of them. His first articles would have been frontpaged on whatever came before Slashdot.)

While he wisely doesn’t allow comments on his site, his posts’ discussion threads on other sites generate tons of negative comments, and I’m sure he gets a lot of emails from people who absolutely must ensure that he reads their commentary. Sure, there’s some positive discussion, but it’s mostly negative and argumentative, even for seemingly benign posts. Programmers turn every popular post relevant to our industry into a huge argument.

In most cases, they’ll completely miss the point of what was written, nitpicking an inconsequential point or screaming at a straw man. And I’m only talking about the few people who actually read past the headline that the Digg submitter or Business Insider author has modified from the original to be more inflammatory and attract more angry clicks — most comments are made by people who barely read the article at all.

Wait, this was just about programmers?

All of that applies to every audience, not just programmers. Everyone is the worst audience.2

But programmers are a special case. Because not only will they tell you how wrong you are, but they’ll also tell you how stupid and idiotic you are, and they’ll mathematically prove it, and you should never program again, and you should be fired, you moron. Their attacks are all-out personal insults on your intelligence, but much better written and argued than most internet commenters.

Nastiness is simply a percentage of your audience, so the more popular you become, the more nastiness you get. Despite all of the wonderful, positive feedback that comes with having a large audience, it’s hard not to take it personally when everything you say or do is greeted by hundreds of people telling you how much of a worthless idiot you are.

Some people claim that they don’t care and that they can ignore it. I don’t know if Joel can.

I can’t, which is one of the reasons why I rarely write about programming: it’s just not worth the risk of putting myself out there on that subject because the risk of strongly negative feedback is higher than with most other content that I can produce. It’s much easier to share my breakfast than my easily argued, easily disproven, intellectually vulnerable thoughts on programming.

I can’t help but wonder whether Joel came to the same conclusion, and how much great potential writing we’re losing from others who do.

  1. Nearly all blogs and books about programming are about how to do something, not why to do it or how to decide what to do. There are very few that contain actual wisdom. ↩︎

  2. I would qualify that as “everyone on the internet”, except that I don’t believe that the internet inherently makes people nasty — it just provides the fatal combination of audience and anonymity that permits many people’s inherent nastiness to overcome the filters that prevent it from showing in other settings. ↩︎